Elliot usually calls at night. He knows it’s easier to speak to me when there isn’t a distraction. You could almost say he was thoughtful in the same way a shark is when it waits for a seal to swim away from the safety of a group. A predatory kind of thoughtfulness. I wait for the hoarse whisper, off in the distance, coming closer, the voice gaining strength as it closes in. Never a nice word.

When my bedroom is dark there is a shadow on the wall of Christ on the cross. It’s a trick of the light, but there he is anyhow, slumped forward in pain, head down, waiting, like me, for Elliot. And one day maybe Elliot will call on him too. He’s the mocking voice at the foot of Golgotha; Judas; the baying crowd; a true confessional.

When he first called I thought somebody had broken into my house and was standing behind me. I turned around but, of course, Elliot can’t be seen. He told me I was worthless. You could sense a warped enjoyment in saying what, in essence, was just a simple fact. He was probing for weakness. Gloating. I imagined him with his finger running down the page of all the things I’ve ever done, or known, in my life, waiting until he came across the worst words and deeds and feelings. I imagined the smile on his face. Storing it all up for the right moment. He knows the things you don’t. How afraid I’ve been, how sad, and how close I get sometimes to ending it all. Nothing I can say will ever give you the same kind of access as Elliot. Nobody can compete. He’s watched it unfold up close, and if he isn’t purely a watcher – which I doubt he is  – then this is partly his story too.

The wind is starting to pick up outside. The leaves are falling in a good number. The heating is on. In a moment I’ll light some candles and stare out of the window towards the nature reserve at the back of my house. On the hillside, Buddhist prayer flags weave their words into the breeze. All I have to do is catch them. I feel a bit sad. Elliot knows this, and maybe tonight he’ll mock me for it. Until then, here we are: you’re reading, I’m waiting.




The Midnight Monster

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It had been a bad night again. Not down to the meds this time. I think I’d fallen asleep around 11pm, laptop still on next to the bed. The air was hot from a day in the heatwave. The stone house had retained the warmth and was releasing it slowly, cooking me. A dog barked, waking me up. I kicked the duvet off and lay there on my back, naked, the dog barking and barking out the back somewhere. The thing wasn’t happy, wherever it was. There was aggression in its voice.

Behind my house is just miles of countryside. Probably ten miles in a straight line from my back door to the nearest house in that direction. It’s quiet, and sometimes you can see the Milky Way up there, and those fools in the Space Station. Noise around here means you should be alert. Noise doesn’t herald anything of any good out here. You learn to take notice of sounds when the nights are usually deep silence.

From over the hill the sound of Sheep baaaaaa baaaaaa, bleating and concerned. I got up and looked out of the window expecting to see a flock of loose sheep behind my house, or the pack of Wolverines chasing them. Nothing. I scanned around but the place looked still. Getting back into bed, I grabbed my Mag-Light torch, and wondered if it was worth going downstairs to get my axe – kept by the back door in case of emergencies – but I reckoned I needed more evidence and reason before I introduced a large sharp steel blade to the night. I turned off the laptop and fell asleep.

3am – I was woken hideously from a dream about riding Bill Gates around a Horse Track. Something had let out a yell outside. The dog barked again, scared, yelping. Silence, then a terrifying scream, something so cutting and bizarre that I reached for the torch without thinking. No animal I’d ever heard could make a noise like that. There it was again. A high pitched, blood-curdling shriek that sounded like it ended in a laugh. I lay there, heart beating faster, waiting for it to yell again so I could judge how far it was from my home and, more importantly, my open windows.

I thought of Bigfoot. Shit, he’d be able to climb into my upstairs windows without much effort. I imagined myself being dragged outside like the Skyscraper scene from King Kong, naked, flailing weakly as I was carried off into the night. No point worrying, I told myself, things will take their course as they always do. I waited until it was starting to get light. Nothing. No more screams, no more barking. I sensed a change outside. Birds were starting to sing, the darkness ushered out by the promise of another fine day. I got up and drew back the curtains knowing whatever had been terrorising me had gone. I was right. A beautiful dawn, orange sky, green trees, dewy grass, monster-less. I had survived another attack. In calm, rational, early morning serenity I made my way downstairs chuckling to myself at how stupid I’d been. Light makes even the worst coward braver than he was when he couldn’t see what was coming. Was any of it even real? When you have a psychotic mental illness that question is one you ask yourself a lot. And you learn to appreciate how much of a target you are. There are many monsters out to get us, real or imagined. In the dark there is no difference between the two.


The Summer job

‘God….when we’re leaving work I keep looking at her out of the corner of my eye sitting there next to me as I’m driving. I get a hard on.’

‘Yeah? Aren’t you a bit old for her, Vic?’ I replied.

‘I don’t care.’ He paused for a few seconds, playing an image in his mind. ‘You know, sometimes I think about raping her.’


‘I think about just pulling the car over somewhere quiet and raping her.’

And so that conversation ended. We were sitting in a work canteen in the hot summer of 1992. I was 18 and this was a shitty summer job at a bottle packing plant. It paid £1.09 an hour. I had to pack thirty thousand coke bottles into crates every day. Me and my work partner held the factory record – one hundred and fifteen thousand bottles packed between us in an eight hour shift. We weren’t proud. It was back breaking dirty work, but when you finished each afternoon you were too tired to go spend the money, so things mounted up until the weekends. Then I’d get wasted for two days.

The plant employed around a hundred men and women. It was the last stop before unemployment made sense in all ways. The employees were either elderly, infirm, or had some form of learning difficulties that were, as yet, undiagnosed. Then there were the drifters and the chancers – too slack to get a proper job, or fired from everything else up the ladder so they eventually slid back down into this cesspool. Nobody laughed, talking was banned, and the radio played over the sound of clinking glass at a volume where you could never tell what was on.

Vic was about late fifties. He had a big belly and smelled like cabbages. The girl he had been talking about was my age, pretty, and unaware of Vic’s fantasies. This had been a tough conversation to be a part of. Afterwards I felt dirty, complicit in a crime. I went to the girl and told her to watch herself with Vic when he gave her a lift. She laughed, but I noticed her at the bus stop after work that day. She took the bus home every day after that.

Vic never managed to get his hard on near her. I was sure he’d die soon of a heart attack anyhow. It was the kind of karmic justice I thought only right in his case. Painful death for Vic, and the people who had filled the toilet walls with at least a thousand wiped bogeys, bits of shit and, a few times, long dribbles of sperm. There was no hope in that place. Everybody had given up theirs a long time ago. It was the way of things in an ex-mining town. Jobs were hard to come by and taking one as low paid as this meant swallowing some pride for many. And, if you aren’t careful, before you know it you’ve given up. I could walk away back into middle class safety and education, the others were doomed to wiping shit on the walls and talking about rape as if it were the same as playing football after work. There was no hope for the people who depended on that place to pay bills and put food on tables. Where was Orwell’s noble working class? Sure as shit wasn’t in there. These people were a step away from ripping women to shreds and eating the remains. Every morning I’d clock in and pray that I wouldn’t witness something worse than the day before. They were three long months.

I left at the end of the summer and went back to college sorer, slightly richer, but feeling sick to the stomach that I’d maybe seen a slice of the real world for the first time. And if that was the case then I didn’t fit into it. What had we come to as a society when we paid peanuts to people and put them into an unwinnable situation where they felt so out of kilter? Was every work place like this? Was my future heading in the direction of jacking off onto toilet walls? I was confused, but at least I had some spare cash. Two weeks after finishing my summer job I had spent every penny of the money I’d saved from working there on drugs and booze; a pathetic middle class boy. Some people would say that was a waste, but not me. I never had to go back to the factory and I used those two weeks to think of everything I’d learned about the real world. Those thoughts became, in time, a self fulfilling prophecy, a mantra of sorts. ‘No hope for any of us.’


The Curtain

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‘Throw those curtains wide….one day like this’ll see me right,’ sing Elbow on my headphones now. Maybe those fools were in the clutches of a mid-life crisis, or perhaps they really believed what they were singing. Is there anyone out in the real world who has that level of optimism? And I don’t mean the schizoid weirdness Donald Trump lays on us like a piss-stained blanket. Does anyone really believe in seizing the day any more?

The mean-spirited weather has pulled back the curtain here, though. The sky is clear and blue and the jetliners cruise towards Manchester airport high up and noiselessly. There was possibly a glimmer of hope for the day until I stood waiting at the village bus stop in my sheepskin coat and old jeans. There is a special sign on the heads of all bus travellers. We are the poor, the mentally ill, or the aged. We travel second class all the way to somewhere appalling: shopping centers, town bus stations, housing estates, intersections, train stations. NO bus stop outside the mansions high on the hillside between my village and the local town. Not much call for one up there. Proof in point.

Across from the bus stop, past the queuing traffic and the smug eyes of the drivers watching me in the breeze and the diesel fumes, a beauty salon vomited out a customer. She let her piggy trotters carry her out to where she’d double parked her Range Rover with it’s private plate, and stroked her hair in the rear view mirror. Vast piggy face caked in thick make-up, framed by clouds of fake blonde hair. Fired up the engine, pulled out into the traffic and up the hill towards the big houses. Another weeks toenail growth axl-ground off, teeth whitened, fingernails painted pale pink. She was ready for the auspices of a weekend in the cosy eiderdown of wealth. It had been a long time since she’d snouted around in the mud like the rest of us, looking for acorns or the best part of a hidden corpse – never make enemies with a pig farmer. A pig can consume a human body, and the only recognisable trace shitted out are the teeth. Even the bones get chewed up and digested. Think about that next time you have the need for a discrete disposal of something that used to be alive.

The bus was filled with pre-opening-time drunks heading into town for the first morning thaw-out drinks. Red faces, tapping hands, shakes, sore heads, bad moods. I got off one stop before town so I could walk over the old bridge and see the river. Someone had written ‘Help’ on the wall.

In the supermarket the manager leered at women coming in, eyes following the asses of every female in a tight skirt. Quick few second blasts of sexual tension ramping up and up throughout the day. The customers tipped ready meals and cheap booze into wire baskets and served themselves at the auto-tills. And nobody was smiling.

Humans on the pavement outside, jostling and hating and barely conscious – mackerel in a shoal swimming to the spawning grounds. No sharks in sight, just the broken guy in the sheepskin coat wondering what it’s all about. Elbow may have opened their curtain, but they didn’t see the same view.